|Participants listen to speakers on gender justice.|
Sana Ben Achour from the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women opened the session by presenting the effort of her association to conduct a fact-finding mission to the towns in Tunisia’s interior where particularly brutal violence was perpetrated.
Achour revealed that the testimonies collected by the commissions investigating violence usually do not refer to women’s suffering due to the specific nature of abuse, which often involves sexual violence. Many truth-seeking bodies do not achieve parity between men and women in terms of membership and the methods employed in their functioning, which often does not address specific aspects of victimization of women.
Gender-based violence is routed in the patriarchal system in Tunisia and is of a collective nature, Achour said. She stressed that a need exists to break the wall of silence around violence against women, to show solidarity with them and to empower them to defend their rights.
Women’s activism in Tunisia is still gaining strength, said Achour, and its main priority is to establish the truth about the victimization of women and full respect for their rights and dignity.
Kelli Muddell, acting director of ICTJ’s Gender Justice Program, explained that women often suffer from the same forms of violence as men, but their suffering often remains invisible.
At the same time, there are specific characteristics of violence against women such as sexual and reproductive violence - forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization - with unique long-term consequences for the victims. It usually involves patterns of humiliation of entire communities and punishing women for their own political activities or affiliations.
When it comes to the transitional justice mechanisms, often women are not adequately represented in consultations leading to establishment of measures, which directly leads to the exclusions of violations that affect them most and their needs not being included. Reasons for this include women being sidelined from negotiation or political processes despite involvement in revolutions or bringing peace.
When properly formulated to address specific forms and consequences of violence against women, transitional justice measures can secure justice for individual human rights violations but also can address inequality that gives rise to conflict or abuses in the first place.
Muddell proceeded to detail examples of how different transitional justice mechanisms can address the violence against women and secure their participation.
Amna Guellali, an analyst in the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) presented an overview of jurisprudence in international courts dealing with crimes against women, including the landmark rulings where rape was defined as a crime of genocide (ICTR) and crime against humanity (ICTY). Guellali stressed that these were not merely technical legal issues, but that they betray the reality of targeting women systematically.
At the ICC these crimes have been given due attention on substantial level through the inclusion of crimes against women into the statute, with innovative developments including crimes perpetrated with sexist motives. On the institutional level, the ICC has created several specialized units to be able to deal with gender-based crimes. Procedures have been adopted to equip the ICC’s personnel to be able to work with victims of sexual traumas while protecting their wellbeing.
The ensuing discussion addressed the representation of women in different investigative bodies set up in Tunisia after consultations, their ability to examine sexual violence, the specific forms of violence against women that took place during the protests and the lack of freedom for women to speak about the violence they suffered. In addition, participants discussed judicial response to violence against women in the Tunisian transition and the public ostracizing of women related through marriage to perpetrators.